Relief sought for crowded east Arlington schools

ARLINGTON -- School trustees will tackle the chronic problem of overcrowding in east Arlington schools during Thursday's board meeting and could vote on a long-range solution.

The best and most effective fix, administrators say, is also the most conventional: Build two elementary schools over the next few years and make major additions to three existing campuses.

The cost for the plan would be more than $58 million, which would come from existing district sources. Additional staff for the new schools would run the district about $2 million more in annual salaries.

"I absolutely believe that we need the two new schools," Trustee John Hibbs said at a recent board workshop. "We could get to our ultimate goal of trying to remove all the temporaries."

There are currently 19 elementary schools in the east Arlington sector. Fifteen of them were over capacity last year, including Johns by 52.8 percent, Atherton by 37.7 percent and Crouch by 28.9 percent. Many campuses have as many as 10 or 11 temporary buildings.

Atherton and Johns will get relief next year when the new elementary campus at Sherry Street opens, but that school will be at capacity as soon as it opens with the overflow from Johns and Atherton.

The two new schools would hold 900 students each. One would be built on the Workman Junior High School campus and the other on a site east of Texas 360.

The three new classroom additions would serve 200 students each, though locations haven't been announced. The 2009 bond package included money for building two such additions.

"We haven't nailed down specifics yet, but we've got some very good candidates," said Cindy Powell, assistant superintendent of finance.

Boundaries would be redrawn for most schools in east Arlington if the construction proposal is approved.

Funding for the project could be drawn from several existing sources that total $98.5 million, including the district's general surplus balance of $61 million; $21.8 million natural gas fund; $5.6 million in surplus 1999 bond money; and $10 million from the 2009 bond package designated for building additions. Administrators didn't rule out a possible bond package.

Additional information will be presented at Thursday's board meeting, including a possible timeline and financing options for the new construction.

Administrators had been researching several possible solutions, including breaking up the pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade elementary concept with the creation of grade-specific centers for pre-kindergarten, fifth and sixth grades, or sixth-grade only.

Proposals also have been made to move sixth-graders to the junior high level at Carter, Workman and Hutcheson junior highs, or make widespread boundary changes throughout the district, which feeds into Sam Houston High School.

All of those plans have serious drawbacks that make them unworkable, administrators told the school board during the workshop.

The construction solution would relieve overcrowding and preserve the consistency of a single instructional model across the district, they said.

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

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